I was reading an article on Evan Longoria’s contract (and similar contracts) at DRaysBay yesterday, which got me thinking about Andrew McCutchen. I think most people would agree that McCutchen will be a star (or at least a well above average player). He possesses elite tools, a performance record to back it up, and an encouraging approach to the game. McCutchen has hinted that he would prefer to go year-to-year with his contract, as opposed to locking himself up in a long-term deal. Neal Huntington has said that the team has the same approach to the situation at this point. However, putting that aside for now, let’s look at how much it should take to sign him to a long-term extension.
The Pirates control McCutchen’s rights through 2015, which will be his age 28 season. The team will want to buy out some free agent years with any long-term deal, so let’s go with an eight-year deal. That would take him through his six years of team control and two years of free agency. McCutchen was about a 3.5-win player last season in 493 plate appearances. CHONE sees him producing similar value in 2010, with a slight drop-off in offense and additional playing time. He is still years away from his prime, so it is fair to estimate that he will be worth an average of 4 wins per season over the next eight years.
First, let’s see what he should expect to earn on a year-by-year basis. I am estimating the value of one win at $4 million. That number has been as high as $4.5 million in recent years, but I believe it has been closer to $3 million or $3.5 million this offseason. Without knowing exactly how the economic climate will fluctuate in the next eight years, $4 million seemed like an appropriate number. For 2010-2012, McCutchen would earn close to the league minimum. He would be eligible for arbitration in 2013-2015. Using a 0.4/0.6/0.8 arbitration schedule, he would expect to earn $6.4 million in 2013, $9.6 million in 2014 and $12.8 million in 2015. If we total those numbers, McCutchen should expect to receive about $30 million over the next six years. He would become a free agent after the 2015 season. Depending on the economic climate at that time, he should receive somewhere in the vicinity of $16 million per year on the open market.
But what if McCutchen isn’t a 4-win player over those years? What if, whether it be due to injury or simple regression, he is only worth an average of 2 wins per season? That would likely earn him about $15 million through his arbitration years and only about $8 million per year when he hits free agency. Of course, his career could just as easily take off to superstardom levels. If he averages 6 wins per season, he would earn about $45 million through 2015 and about $24 million per season upon reaching free agency.
Just to clarify a little further, here are a couple of approximate example seasons for McCutchen:
2 WAR – 600 PA, .260/.330/.400, average defense
4 WAR – 600 PA, .280/.355/.480, +5 defense
6 WAR – 600 PA, .290/.365/.525, +10 defense
The right contract is one that will work for both parties. I think a six-year deal worth $27 million, plus two option years at $15 million per season would do the trick. McCutchen would be assured of a contract that sets him up for life, regardless of whether he regresses or deals with injury issues down the road. He also reaches free agency after his age 30 season, meaning he will still be young enough to land a substantial long-term deal in free agency. In return, he gives the Pirates a slight discount and delays his free agency for a couple years.
Both McCutchen and the Pirates have indicated that they will not rush into a long-term deal. That’s probably the most sensible approach for each. But every game that McCutchen plays makes him a little more expensive down the road. I think it would be wise for the Pirates to take an aggressive approach and lock up one of their brightest rising stars.